Chemo made me feel very fatigued. Radiation caused pain and inflammation making it hard some days to just move. Cancer, at any stage, can wreak havoc on the body and mind. It’s very easy for a patient to stay in bed or on the couch all day, but cancer has become my reason to train.
My name is Richard Bent, CPT and soon to be certified Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET) in Toronto.
I have always had an interest in weight training from an early age. I used to go to the gym and didn’t really know what I was doing, but I would do it anyway. My diet was horrible. I loved fast food and junk food, so I was always the biggest kid in class. I was overweight for most of my youth into adulthood which affected my self confidence and caused some anxiety.
In 2015, I began noticing some blood in my stool and I was having a weird feeling in my stomach that would come and go. I went to a doctor to get checked and he turned me away. I didn’t fit the “profile” of someone with a problem he said, so I left it alone. I eventually cleaned up my lifestyle, nutrition, and began training smarter. I lost over 60 pounds and I was in the leanest shape of my life. I developed a passion for fitness and would also become a certified PT.
In the summer of 2017, I began to feel a “bump”. I didn’t think anything of it at first as the feeling would come and go. That gradually turned into a recurring pattern of diarrhea followed by constipation. By late 2017, I knew something was definitely wrong, so I insisted on having a colonoscopy. When I woke up from the anaesthesia the doctor asked to see me in his office. He showed my wife and I an image of the tumour he found. We were both stunned and speechless at first. As we left the building, I lit a cigarette. I took three drags, each time the image of the tumour would flash in my mind, and I threw it away. Just like that, after 24 years, I would never have a craving for nicotine again. I quit smoking that day, about 10 minutes after a colorectal tumour was confirmed.
My oncologist estimates that the tumour could have began developing up to 10 years earlier, with no genetic association. Ten years prior my lifestyle involved alcohol and cigarettes daily, sometimes with no food. When I did eat, it was processed foods and high amounts of sugar that caused obesity and bouts of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I would lose weight and gain weight quickly, and I suffered with migraines. In short, for many decades, I had abused my body and neglected my health. In hindsight, it should not have been a surprise that my extreme lifestyle would somehow catch up with me.
Chemo and radiation didn’t bother me right away. I would go to the gym after my treatments and I was feeling pretty good. After about half of my treatments were complete, I noticed the fatigue and inflammation start to set in. Training became harder and more of a struggle each time toward the end. Regardless, I kept working out and made my way through therapy with minimal side effects and no extra medications.
In 2018 I would have surgery to remove my rectum and all of the cancer. I developed an infection at the surgical site which left me literally bed ridden for three months. During that time, I lost about 20 pounds of muscle and gained about the same in fat. I also had an ostomy bag. I hated the bag! But, more than anything, I hated the timing. At 44, I was too young, too active, and too healthy otherwise to live as someone who is sick or old. I was angry. Socially, I shut down and lost some relationships and damaged others.
My ostomy was reversed a year later. My recovery is going well thanks to the support of my amazing wife, family, and friends who all encourage me to go after my fitness goals. My recent scans have all come back negative. Physically, I am still working to return to that lean person I was just before my diagnosis. I currently train with cancer patients and survivors along with their support groups for better health.
Fitness is a journey. There will be set backs, but we keep moving forward. When we are feeling depressed and we feel like we have no goals or ambition, we keep moving forward. When we feel that life has dealt us a bad hand, whatever the situation may be, we keep moving forward. Get after it every single day! I gain inspiration and motivation from seeing others step up to face their challenges head on. I’m hoping that my story raises awareness of the symptoms of colon cancer and inspires others to live their strongest life.